Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pakistan’s Buddhist art comes to Sri Lanka

Buddhist sculptures from the ancient Gandhara Kingdom, located in present-day Pakistan, are shown in this June 23rd, 2005 File photo. Pakistan has begun sharing its vast collection of Buddhist artefacts with museums in Sri Lanka. [Athar Hussain/Reuters]
Although Pakistan is a Muslim country, it shares a cultural and historical heritage with predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka. By Pradeep Seneviratne for Khabar South Asia in Colombo
July 12, 2012
For years, Colombo-native Ariyawathi knew of Pakistan only as a Muslim state of little significance to Buddhists.
But that was before she visited the new international Buddhist museum at Sri Dalada Maligawa, a sacred temple in Kandy. The collection at the year-old museum features artefacts from 16 different countries– including Pakistan.
What she saw made a profound impression on her.
“During my school days, I learnt about Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini, Nepal and other areas associated with milestones of his life in India,” Ariyawathi, 60, told Khabar South Asia. “Yet I hardly knew Pakistan also has a proud history of Buddhists. I was happy to know it. We have to teach this to our children.”
The Pakistani and Sri Lankan governments have been increasingly interested in fostering a relationship based on the two countries’ shared cultural heritage. Last year, as Sri Lanka commemorated the 2,600th anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment, the Pakistani government sent a set of sacred relics. They were exhibited in June 2011 before being taken back to Pakistan.
Now, the High Commission of Pakistan in Colombo is taking steps to send replicas of key artefacts that can be kept permanently at the museum in Kandy.
“Pakistan has gifted these invaluable cultural assets to Sri Lanka,” Pradeep Nilanga Dela, custodian of the Sri Dalada Maligawa museum, told Khabar. “The museum where these items are kept is an important one. It presents to people how Buddhism was founded and spread across the countries.”
Dela said the High Commission announced arrangements are being made to donate a few more artefacts from Pakistan to the museum, which looks forward to receiving them. The donated cultural assets are mostly from the Gandhara region, situated near modern-day Peshawar. The area was once home to a thriving culture, which mixed Buddhism with Greco-Roman influences.
T.B. Ekanayake, minister of Cultural Affairs of Sri Lanka, said the long-standing cultural, religious, political and economic relationship between the two countries is meaningfully symbolised through such donations of cultural assets.
“There is an invaluable archaeological value. We really appreciate the importance attached by the Pakistani government to its rich legacy of Buddhist heritage,” he said.
Yalwela Pannasekara Thera, a Buddhist monk working as a teacher at a leading school in Colombo, said it is important for children to learn about cultural ties with the countries in the region.
“Now, the world is becoming globalised,” Thera said. “People should be interconnected with each other. It is better for them to know the common heritage.”
M. Fawaz, a Muslim trader in Colombo, also said the development of cultural ties between the two countries on their common heritage would be a positive step.
“In the ordinary people’s mind, Pakistan is associated with cricket. There is something more than a game of cricket. Culture can bring us close to each other,” he said.

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